MSN Requirements: Know What to Expect Before You Start a Program

Master’s degree in nursing costs and requirements vary by school, location and program type. But there are a few generalities about MSN requirements at schools around the U.S.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing outlines the essentials for all master’s in nursing programs.

According to AACN’s Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing report, master’s education must prepare the graduate to:

  • Lead change to improve quality outcomes
  • Advance a culture of excellence through lifelong learning
  • Build and lead collaborative interprofessional care teams
  • Navigate and integrate care services across the healthcare system
  • Design innovative nursing practices
  • Translate evidence into practice

Snapshots of MSN requirements

We looked at the MSN requirements at a few of the nation’s leading nursing schools. This is what we found.

MSN programs tend to focus on specific areas of knowledge. One state university MSN program with a nursing education concentration requires at least 40 to 43 credit hours in the nursing education concentration. Nursing students also have to complete 225 practicum hours in nursing education.

Graduates of an MSN family nurse practitioner program at one public university complete 45 credit hours of coursework. That includes 35 credit hours of didactic coursework and 10 credit hours of clinical practice, completed in six or seven semesters. Full-time students pay $656 a credit for this program.

Nursing students often pay other fees for a master’s education. At a public university, for example, students pay educational support and technology fees of about $225 for each course and about $600 a term for books and supplies. Nurses might also have to pay health or hospitalization insurance and background check charges.

Nursing students at a private university in the school’s MSN family nurse practitioner program complete 48 credit hours and 700 clinical hours. Students that don’t have a BSN degree and are in the school’s RN-to-MSN program have to complete 54 credit hours. Tuition for full-time master’s program students is $1,395 each credit.

Typical requirements and considerations

Nurses typically need a BSN degree from an accredited nursing school to enter a BSN-to-MSN program. MSN requirements for admission also include that a nurse has an unencumbered and unrestricted license in the state that he or she plans to do the clinical practicum, as well as a cumulative undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Tuition tends to be the biggest expense associated with going back to school. But it’s not the only expense.

“For example, textbooks, nursing gowns and uniforms, and health insurance are other costs you’ll need to cover,” according to the Imagine America Foundation. “Every year, expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to more than $3,000 for textbooks. As a nursing student, you’ll also be required to wear uniforms and purchase your own medical devices, such as a stethoscope, blood pressure apparatus, watch, goggles, thermometer and more. Items like these can span from $300 to $500. Your health insurance is another important consideration, costing from about $1,000 to more than $4,000 each year. Application fees and laboratory fees should also be on your list of eventual expenses.”

Living expenses, as well as time away from full-time work, might also come into play. Many full-time master’s in nursing programs recommend that students work no more than part-time during the 18 months to two years in school.

For more than half of U.S. students, in general, going to college means taking on debt. Students pursing master’s and other graduate degrees are most likely to take on debt to pay for school, according to the Federal Reserve.

Given the relatively high costs of nursing education, nurses can accumulate mounds of debt. There are ways to reduce and even eliminate school debt.

Nurses are among the healthcare providers that have student debt saving options that others don’t. These include borrowing through the Federal Stafford Loan and Federal Grad PLUS Loan programs, according to a report.

Some nurses who are employed by government or nonprofit organizations might qualify for loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Nurses that work in Health Professional Shortage Areas, might also qualify for loan forgiveness.

Nurses who are employed should also check with their employers about tuition reimbursement options.

Ask these questions when choosing a nursing program

There are so many programs from which to choose. Asking the right questions can narrow nurses’ searches, honing in on the programs that are right for them. The National Student Nurses’ Association recommends ​that student nurses ask about admission standards, including general education coursework requirements.

Other potential questions are:

  • Is the program full time or part time?
  • What are the program’s graduation rates?
  • What are a program’s full costs, including fees, uniforms, books, background checks, equipment (such as stethoscopes), travel to clinical locations and more?
  • Does the program have State Board of Nursing approval and is it accredited by a nursing education accreditor?
  • Are there available scholarships? If so, what are they?
  • Does the school offer seamless academic progression (in case the nurse wants to continue to the doctorate degree)?
  • Finally, this is an especially important question post-COVID-19 pandemic: What if the school closes while I’m enrolled? And is it prepared to respond in the case of another pandemic?


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